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The Real Fear of Deportation

“Laura, llama a tu papá que se fue desde ayer y no ha vuelto.”

The words stopped my heart as I sat in the silent Law School Library reading room. I had not been able to answer my phone, so my mom sent me the frantic text because she didn’t know where my dad was. I immediately responded, trying to get more information. I couldn’t get back to my work. Millions of thoughts were racing through my mind—one big one in particular.

It was Nov. 6th—two days before the election.

I left my stuff and rushed to the bathroom to call my dad. My fear built up for 15 minutes before it was released in the form of tears the second I heard his voice. He hadn’t been able to answer the phone because he was at a driving lesson. I kept myself composed so he wouldn’t know how worried I had been.

15 minutes. It felt like hours. It was a worry that had been building in the back of my mind for 15 years.

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***

When I was little and my parents would leave for work, I was always scared, for reasons I didn’t know, that they wouldn’t return. My mom would babysit at night and I worried she wouldn’t be there when I woke up. I worried she’d never be able to tuck me in again. Fear was present before I even knew what deportation meant—before I knew what it meant to not have papers.

“No le digan a nadie que uno no sabe quien és de confianza.”

“Don’t tell anyone.” Our status had to remain a secret. Our home lives had to remain a secret. I couldn’t open up my home to all my friends. I couldn’t risk having the subject brought up casually over dinner. My siblings and I learned how to keep the secret before we knew what it even meant.

My parents taught my siblings and me how to be afraid to ensure our safety—this way we’d never be separated. They taught us to keep our immigration status a secret so that we could continue pursuing our dreams even though they didn’t have the same opportunity to pursue their own.

***

“Aquí guardamos el dinero y los papeles. Por si algo nos pasa.”

“In case something happens to us.” I was ten years old, but I knew what she meant. My mom pulled out the emergency money she had hidden in her drawer. She filed through the papers she kept in the closet. I didn’t think much of it at the moment. It wasn’t until years later when I brought it up in a group of friends that I realized they had never experienced anything like that.

Something so simple set us apart so much. A simple experience epitomized the difference that one piece of paper could mean in someone’s entire life.

***

My siblings recently visited me at Harvard. While walking through the Yard, I checked my bank account balance on my phone. My sister noticed I had a decent amount of money saved up.

“I have a few thousand. But that’s just because Albita transferred some of her money into my account,” she joked.

It took me a few seconds to realize the weight that her words carried. Fear manifests itself in the most unexpected places. The lovely day with my brother and sister was interrupted by the reality that we knew too well. My mom had transferred her money into my sister’s account in case anything happened to her and she wasn’t able to access it. She wanted to make sure we’d be fine. That has always been her first priority.

Walking through the Yard only reminded us that nothing can save us from this fear. Going to college does not change the fact that our futures are in the hands of a few people who don’t understand the ever-present state of anxiety we live in. Being at Harvard doesn’t change the fact that I fear for my safety and that of my family every day.

***

When the fake detainment notices were slipped under dorm room doors just a few weeks ago, there were students who fully believed what was written on them. They believed that either they or someone they loved was being detained. There was no reason not to believe it. Relief hit them when they flipped the paper and saw that they were fake.

The notices were thrown away but the deep-rooted fear did not go with them. The fear has always been here. And it doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon.

Laura S. Veira-Ramirez ’20 is a Crimson editorial editor in Canaday Hall.

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